Safer vehicle sees contractor walk away from side-by-side rollover

Date 28 June 2018

In what could have been a fatal quad accident, a contractor was lucky to escape a serious rollover with just a bang on the head after his side-by-side vehicle flipped on farmland in South Canterbury.

TBfree contractor Connor was having a good morning checking ferret traps on the edge of Mackenzie Country, in rolling paddocks near the head of Te Ngawai River under Mt Dobson. The land up there looks up to the Southern Alps and slopes down to the river, gently rolling terrain with a few dense patches of scrub. On an early autumn morning, with a light wind drying off overnight dew and light rain, ground conditions were firm on well-established pasture.

Running a possum trap line is demanding work. A contractor mounts and dismounts his side-by-side four-wheel-drive light utility vehicle repeatedly each day. Each possum trap is pinpointed on a handheld PDA, which guides the pest controller’s track over the terrain.

Connor was having a productive morning on day five of a seven-day stint. In good spirits after a good night’s sleep and an easy 30-minute drive to the work site, Connor was properly attired and wearing his approved Aghat safety helmet, although the chinstrap wasn’t ideally adjusted.

He was working on tricky land – hazardous terrain that had been identified as a risk and discussed with the farmer before the job started – but Connor was familiar with the track, having been driving his Polaris LUV side-by-side over the same trap line during the previous days.

His employer, High Country Contracting, made the switch from quads to side-by-sides in 2014, and Connor had been trained and checked as a competent driver. He’d been using the side-by-side for seven weeks.

He hopped in and fastened the seatbelt that straps the driver into the roll cage. The next trap was not far away across the paddock, but Connor needed a fix from his PDA to find it exactly. He was checking his course with his eye on the PDA when he suddenly encountered a large bull rut immediately in front. He jumped on the brakes and attempted a swerve, but the front wheel dropped into the rut, pitched the LUV into a roll, hit the bottom of the rut and rolled, ending up back on all four wheels.

Connor was shaken, and had smacked the back of his head on the roll cage during the flip. The knock had dislodged his improperly secured helmet, and gashed the back of his head, but he was alive and otherwise uninjured.

Thanking his lucky stars that he wasn’t on a quad bike, which could have left him crushed to death, Connor brushed himself off and thought about what to do next.

He was equipped with a two-way radio as part of standard kit. High Country Contracting has solid emergency procedures and safety systems – the company won an ACC Workplace Safety Award in 2017’s Business Excellence Awards.

He radioed back to base to tell his manager he’d had a spill, but that he was okay apart from a cut on the head. He promised he’d get in touch if he felt worse, and thought he’d continue his morning’s work. But 15 minutes later, he was feeling unwell and called back to ask if anyone was nearby.

Now, his manager was concerned. He told Connor to stay put. There was a helicopter working nearby, and it would land near Connor to assess his condition and work out the next steps.

The chopper crew had a look at Connor’s head wound and ran through a medical check. They thought the cut look bad enough for further attention, and decided to extract Connor from the worksite, fly the few minutes back to base, and drive him down to Timaru Hospital for assessment.

The hospital glued the cut and put him through a CT scanner to make sure there was no internal damage, and with an all-clear, Connor was sent home for a rest.

This time last year, Connor’s crash could have proved fatal if he’d been riding a quad. Other contractors have historically used quad bikes for this sort of work, but a change of Health and Safety Policy at OSPRI, which runs the TBfree programme, insists that its contractors follow HCC’s lead and use safer forms of transport.

The policy recognises that everyone makes mistakes but a safer vehicle can ensure better outcomes.

OSPRI’s 2018 mandatory substitute of safer options for quad bikes is paying dividends: in this instance, a contractor is a bit banged-up, but he’s alive and kicking and, thanks to some good H&S management, he’s learned some valuable lessons:

  • Always secure your safety helmet properly and wear your seatbelt
  • Don’t get distracted from watching the track ahead by using a screen device while driving
  • Ensure you have two-way communication when working at a remote location

More good H&S guidance, and OSPRI’s refreshed H&S Strategy commitment, is available at ospri.co.nz

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